Tuesday 8 November 2011

10 Tools for Increasing Engagement in Online Courses

Over the last few years I've done a lot of work developing writing and redeveloping online courses and course materials. In the initial rush to get learning online many organisations got themselves a Moodle platform and then attached a whole load of PDFs and .docs, added some forums and the odd video clip and called it an online course. It's no surprise then that drop out rates for online learning courses have been so high.

The advent of Web 2.0 though, brought a whole bunch of new tools that course designers could take advantage of to make content more social, interactive and engaging.

Here are some of the tools I've been using recently to embed a bit more interactivity into the courses I work on.

Storify - http://storify.com

Storify is a great tool for collecting together  a mixture of web based resources and references into a web based widget that you can then structure into a digital research paper. You can easily pull in comments from Facebook, Twitter or Google searches as well as a range of other social media sources. You then add blocks with your own commentary and reflections. The whole thing can then be embedded into a webpage. This is a great tool for developing digital literacy and referencing online sources.

Tricider - http://tricider.com

Tricider is a great tool for crowd sourcing opinion. You start with a single question problem and then you or your students can add possible solutions to the problem. Students can also add some pros and cons to the solutions and vote on the ones they prefer. These can be embedded into webpages and can give far more structure to online discussion than things like threaded forums which often become garbled and confusing.

Urtak - https://urtak.com

You can use Urtak to create simple social questionnaires for your courses. Although the responses are quite limited (Yes / No / Don't care) This can still be a useful tool for quick straw polls before developing deeper discussion through a forum. It also give students the chance to compare their opinions anonymously with those of classmates and also add their own questions to the questionnaire. The questionnaires can also be embedded into web pages and materials.

- http://intervue.me

This is also a tool for creating questionnaires, but in the case of Intervue.me the questions can be open ended and the respondent leaves their answer verbally using a web cam. Intervue.me can't be embedded into pages , but you can link to your questionnaires and you can download the video clips of the answers as mp4 so you can then use these in materials you develop and as the basis for further discussion.

VYou - http://vyou.com/

You can use Vyou embed a video booth that students can go at any time of day to ask you questions. The video booth gives the impression that you are always available and builds some presence on your course. The messages students send you are delivered to an inbox and you are notified so that you can answer them. Vyou also has a very handy mobile app so you can answer the questions where ever you are on your iPhone or other mobile device.

Keek - http://www.keek.com/

It's a good idea to get students to keep a learning journal on any course they do. It can feel a bit dull though writing journal entries to yourself, so why not get student to create a video based learning journal using Keek. They can add entries each day just using a web cam and microphone and you can leave video comments on their entries. Students on your course can also be encouraged to 'follow' each other. Individual entries can also be embedded into web pages which can enable you to build pages that share insights from your course participants. Keek also has a free mobile app that allows you to up date from mobile devices such as iPhone.

Bundlr - http://gobundlr.com/

This is a really useful tool for sharing theme based collections of bookmarks. It creates a very visual record of the book marked links which you can then embed into your course pages as widgets. This can be a really useful tool for setting research tasks based around a group of online resources.

Zooshia - http://zooshia.com/

Zooshia is a handy tool for creating widgets from social network sources that can be embedded into web pages. The widgets show a dynamic stream from whatever source we select. This can make suggestions for twitter or facebook people to follow much more informative and can also allow you to embed dynamic widgets from YouTube channels which will make your content much more dynamic too.

Present.Me - http://present.me/

Present.Me  can help you create online presentations from your PowerPoint slides. You can then add your talking head commentary to your slides and embed the whole thing into your online course. This works well as a lecture replacement and having a presenter that you can actually see along side your slides can help add to the engagement with your learners. You can embed this into your page and build a forum around it for follow up discussion.

Goanimate - http://goanimate.com

Online course content can become very dry and serious, so why not spice it up by creating a few animations using something like GoAnimate. It's a an easy tool for creating short animated dialogues that can be exported as video clips and embedded into your course. You can use these to introduce topics or raise issues for further debate.

I hope these ten tools and the links from them have given you a few ideas into how you can spice up your online courses and make them more engaging and enjoyable and help you to retain students. Please leave a comment if you have suggestions for other free tools you have found useful for developing online content.

Related links:


Nik Peachey

Tuesday 13 September 2011

10 Tech Tools for Teacher Training Courses

Over the summer I was running a number of two week ICT in language teaching courses for teachers from around the world. The courses were part of the Bell summer campus at Homerton College Cambridge. This was the first time in a while I had been asked to teach such long courses and i thought it was a great opportunity to see if I could fundamentally change the way the teachers related to technology, not just in the classroom as a tool for teaching learners, but as a tool within their everyday working practice.

As sub goals I set out to run the course with absolutely no paper. That meant no photocopied handouts and no paper based note taking from trainees. I wanted to push these teachers to the point where they could work totally in the digital medium and where paper became totally unnecessary.

I also wanted to use a form of loop input (using the technology to teach the technology) so that teachers were learning about the technologies they could use with students by actually using them for themselves.

I would like to add that this course took place in a computer room with 1 Internet connected computer per teacher.

What follows below is a brief outline of the tools I used to achieve this and how I used each tool.


This was my fundamental communication tool. It allows me to create an instant chatroom which I can use as a backchannel so that students can communicate with each other by text and contribute to the session or just socialise while I'm talking. More importantly though, it enables me to share links to websites and digital document without having to get students to copy complex URLs into their web browser address bar. I simply paste the URL into the chat and when they get the message they click on the link and the URL opens in a new tab in their web browser. I can also use it as a kind of audience response system to get opinions from the whole class and to allow them to type in questions that I can address later.
  • Here's a quick video showing how it works: TodaysMeet

Penzu is a very simple web based private journal tool that I've been using for some time now. In this course I asked teachers to use it instead of taking paper based notes. Penzu is really quite minimalist and it looks just like a sheet of paper, but it stores and date stamps each journal entry and this makes it quite easy to find notes again from any computer as it is 'cloud based'. So this became one of the two standard tabs I asked the teachers to constantly keep open on their web browser. That way they could easily switch between note taking and investigating links and socialising with the class.
  • Here's a quick video showing how it works: Penzu

In place of PowerPoint and Keynote I used 280Slides to prepare and deliver the presentations I included in the course. 280Slides is really simple to use, stores the presentations online and creates a link and embed code so when I'm finished presenting I can instantly share the link with my group either by embedding it into a site or passing the URL through TodaysMeet.
  • Here's a quick video showing how it works: 280Slides

During the course I shared a lot of links to background reading materials, useful follow up websites and blogs etc. The links were passed through TodaysMeet, but to make sure these links weren't lost I got the teachers on the course to create their own Delicious accounts to tag and store all the links so they could find them later on any computer. I also taught them how to add the bookmarking plug in to their browser tool bar. This really helped as it meant they could simply click on it and tag and save everything with just a couple of clicks.

Using Delicious for bookmarking articles etc was great, but for the Web 2.0 type learning tools I was introducing I wanted something more visual as a reminder, so I used SimplyBox. This is a simple to use tool which uses boxes in place of folders and enables you to grab an image from the site as a link back to it, rather than a title. The other great advantage of this tool is that you can share boxes and work on them collaboratively and anyone accessing the box can leave notes on each of the tools. I introduced this tool about halfway through the course by putting links to all the tools we had used in one box, and using this as a revision task, I got the teachers to leave teaching suggestions and notes about how to use each tool and what its strengths were on each of the bookmarks.

I used Posterous as my basic publishing tool for the teachers to build blended learning materials on, you can get started just by sending an email with your blog content in the body of the email and any images, videos or audio as attachments. Very few of them had done any blogging previous to the course so this was a really simple tool to get started on and it handles all kinds of media such as video, documents and embedded objects really well. So as they were building examples of online learning they were also creating their own e-portfolio.
  • Here's a quick video showing how it works: Posterous

Jing was another of the core tools for the course. Initially I got teachers to use it to grab and annotate images of websites so that they could create detailed step by step notes of how to use various web tools. They then dragged the images into documents and uploaded these to their Posterous blog which formatted them into web based documents using Scribd. As the course progressed I moved the teachers on from making text and image based instructions to using Jing to make and upload video based screencasts of the websites. They could then bookmark these with delicious and later use them to show their students how the websites worked, or they could add the link to their Posterous blog which would automatically embed the video into the blog page.
  • Here's an example of a document uploaded to Posterous: Example
  • You can download Jing free from here
Towards the end of the course I introduced the Wiggio VLE to the teachers. Wiggio is a very versatile and quick to create online environment which has a rich variety of communication tools. Using this platform has enabled me to form working groups from the courses so that they can stay in touch with each other and me after the course and continue to share links, videos, documents and more importantly ideas. This is a great tool for building dynamic courses and adds much more social interaction than something like Moodle.
  • Here's a quick video showing how it works: Wiggio

I used Tricider as my needs analysis tool at the beginning and my action research tool during the course. It's a very simple to use, but very versatile polling tool. You just create a question and add some options then share it with the people you want answers from. The great thing is that they can add extra options and add various pros and cons of each option as well as voting on the ones they like. This makes the whole process of polling much more open, social and interactive.
Here's a quick video showing how it works: Tricider

Last but not least is the Firefox browser. I use this as a replacement for Internet Explorer. I find Firefox to be fast reliable and consistent and especially when working with Web 2.0 type tools it gives me very few problems. I can say none of this about IE which I often end up cursing whenever I have to use it in a training environment.
You can download Firefox from here

So, using this combination of tools I managed to deliver the complete course without using paper note books or photocopying any materials, and I feel at the end of it my trainees were the better for it as they had spent a week challenging their ingrained study habits and taking a step towards working in the kind of digital world
their students will probably be negotiating in their future. Most of all though they had a chance to actually use the tools in much the same way that their students will and to make and overcome the kinds of mistakes they will have to deal with students in class.

I hope you have found something interesting here and this article makes you think a little more about how you deliver teacher training in general as the use of these tools isn't just restricted to tech training. They could be integrated into the delivery of any language or teacher training course and to some extent I feel that until tech tools are integrated into mainstream teacher training we aren't going to get the quality and quantity of digitally literate teachers that we need to really provide a 21st century learning environment for our students.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Friday 24 June 2011

Crowdsourcing Knowledge with Students

Over the last few weeks I have been playing with a very simple brainstorming and voting website called tricider. The great thing about tricider is that it is incredibly quick and simple to use, and yet it enables users to collect information and opinions from all over the web in a very easily digestible and powerful way.

It's very easy to create a tricider topic or question and you don't even need to register, just type your topic or question into the field.

You can also add a bit more detail and instructions to guide your students.

After you have saved the description, you or your students can start adding solutions.

Once there are some solutions added it's easy to either vote for them or add arguments for or against, using the + or - symbols.

Once you have set up your page you can add your email so that you get notifications when ever anyone adds something new or votes. You can also get a URL to edit the page (in case anyone adds something offensive) and a separate URL to either share with your students or post to Twtter or Facebook.

Here are some examples that I have set up to crowdsource in formation from my PLN.
So how can we use this with students?
  • Set up some controversial statements and get students to vote for the ones they agree / disagree with and leave pro and con comments. You could assign groups of students to all think of pros and another group to think of cons and see which can come up with the most convincing arguments. Example: Controversial Issues
  • Your statements could be about a particular book your students are studying and they could add arguments for or against. Example: Goldilocks and the 3 Bears
  • Get students to brainstorm word or phrases based around a theme. Example: Computer Phrases
  • Get students to vote on a list of topics they want to study. Example: Topics
  • Put up a list of favourite films or books or bands and get students to vote and debate which is best. Example: Favourite films
  • Get students to brainstorm, debate and share knowledge about any particular topic or even language point. Example: Present Continuous
  • Set up true false questions to check comprehension of a text.
  • Create action research questionnaires to get feedback on the things you do in class. Example: Things we do in Class
  • Create needs analysis questionnaires for your students or other colleagues. Example: Needs Analysis
  • Get students create their own questionnaires and circulate them online (through Twitter or Facebook) to collect opinions. You could also get the students to use this information as part of a written assignment.

What's so good about tricider?
  • It's free and really quick and easy to use.
  • It's allows people to interact and share opinions.
  • It doesn't require any registration.
  • It's very simple for students to add their arguments or just vote.
  • It updates very quickly so you could use it live in class and just click refresh as students add opinions or vote.
  • It's versatile.
  • It can help students pull in opinions from outside their classroom and also share opinions beyond their school.
  • It creates easily digestible information.
What's not so good?
  • Well there's not much wrong, but a couple of nice extra features would be:
  • An embed code to allow me to embed the page into a blog or wiki.
  • An archive button to enable me to close some of the debates so they don't go on forever.
  • The ability to export the results to pdf or csv.
Well I hope you find tricider a useful tool and please do share any ideas you have for using it in the comments below.

Related links:


Nik Peachey

Thursday 17 March 2011

Get your Students Listening and Interacting with Native Speakers

Listening in the EFL / ESL classroom can be a pretty dull business. Usually it consists of students all listening to the same thing at the same time and doing the same tasks. There's nothing wrong with that, but if you feel the urge to get away from the course book and get your students listening to and interacting with some real native speakers from the safety of their computer then why not check out some of the people on Vyou.com ?

I've already written about how you can set up your own Vyou Q&A video booth, but it's also well worth looking round some of the people who are already there and seeing if there are any your students would be interested in, as a lot of the people there a quite young and some are quite interesting and quirky and Vyou offers your students the opportunity not only to listen to them and hear a range of accents, but also to ask them questions, though the answers might take a while to come.

It's very simple to use. You just go to : and there you can either search through some of the featured people or you can click on channels at the top and look through the more topic related people.

Each person has their own video channel and you can either type in questions below the video or you can click on the questions on the right of the video to listen to the answers to questions that have already been asked.

Here are a few people your students might find interesting.

This one is a British guy called Jonny and he claims he will write a song about any subject that readers suggest. There a quite a few there already: http://vyou.com/Spontaneoussongs
This one is Loren Rochelle for North America. She works in 'Social Video seeding' (Yes that seems to a job these days). She answers questions about a wide range of things from the personal to the trivial: http://vyou.com/lorenrochelle

It's also worth checking out the channels.

If you and your students are more interested in literature then there is an ask the author channel where writers answer questions about literature and their books: http://vyou.com/channels/simonandschuster
If your students are more interested in music, EMI also has a channel where you can submit questions to some of their recording artists: http://vyou.com/channels/emi

So how can you exploit this with EFL / ESL students?

  • Show students some of the people and get them to think of questions they would like to ask. Then get them to submit the questions (try to get them to submit questions to a few different people) then in the next lesson they can see if they have any answers and share the information they got from the answers (Also good for lessons on reported speech).
  • Ask students to choose one person each and give them 5 - 10 minutes to discover as much information as possible about that person. They can then discuss and share the information in class.
  • Collect some of the questions that have been asked and get students to think of possible answers, then watch and compare to their own answers and see how much they have in common with each person. Then get students to find the person they are most like.
  • Get students to watch two different people and then compare and contrast their character and interests.
  • Get students to think of one or two good questions and submit them to a range of people. Then in the next lesson students can check the answers and decide who they think gave the best answer.
What I like about this Vyou
  • These are real people that students can interact with.
  • The use of the looped introduction videos gives a real sense of presence and this can be much more motivating and engaging for students.
  • There's a real wealth of listening materials with various accents on a range of topics.
  • The answers are quite short so they aren't too demanding on students concentration despite being 'ungraded' and authentic.
  • Students can listen multiple times.
  • I've looked at quite a few channels and there doesn't seem to be anything inappropriate or offensive.
What I'm not so sure about
  • Some of the channels allow for anonymous submission of questions, so students might be tempted to ask something inappropriate (though they are unlikely to get an answer.)
  • It is possible that your students might stumble across something they might find offensive or some bad language, but I haven't found anything like this yet.

Well I hope you try Vyou.com and that your students find it engaging, entertaining and useful.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Thursday 20 January 2011

3 More Tasks to Teach Yourself to Teach with Technology

At the end of 2010 I published the first 5 tasks in a series to help teacher learn how to use technology with their students. Now I would like to add 3 more tasks to that collection. The first few tasks are all quite simple to lay the ground work and get teachers started. As the series progresses I hope to get on to more adventurous tasks. Please feel free to use these tasks yourself or to share or use them for teacher training.

Task 6: Creating a video review activity
In this task you’ll learn how to create a film trailer review activity using film trailers from YouTube and an online notice board called Wallwisher. Here’s an example to look at before you start: http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/nikstrailers

Wallwisher is a really useful tool for giving students a semi restricted choice of online videos or links to other resources from around the Internet.

Task 7: Creating screenshots using Jing
Jing is a really useful free tool that allows you to create and annotate images grabbed from the screen of your computer.
This can be really useful for creating instruction sheets like the ones used in this series and helps you to grab images to add into websites or other documents.

Task 8: Create your own YouTube channel
Video has become one of the most useful resources on the Internet for language teachers. There are a great many video sharing websites on the Internet, but YouTube is by far the biggest.
In this task you will create your own YouTube channel. It’s very useful to have your own channel even if you never create your own videos. It enable you to subscribe to other channels, share videos with groups of your students and even annotate and add subtitles to videos. We’ll be doing all those things in future tasks, but in this task you will create your channel and subscribe to some other useful channels.
I hope you find these tasks useful and I hope that you'll soon find some more here.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

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